When it comes to its city’s downtown, the Berkeley City Council can be extremely picky. But on Tuesday, a concept for creating a plaza with a water feature on Center Street received its blessing.
The council voted 8-1 close to midnight on a resolution supporting the proposed project, which is being called the Strawberry Creek or the Center Street Plaza. Councilmember Susan Wengraf cast the only “no” vote.
The council also requested city staff to work with Oakland-based Ecocity Builders and Citizens for a Strawberry Creek Plaza on developing the plan and identifying funding from private and public sources.
The council unanimously passed the UC Hotel Task Force recommendations in June 2004, which supported opening Strawberry Creek as part of a public pedestrian-friendly open space. (Plans for a hotel at the site are now on hold or have been abandoned.)
About three years later, the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee also supported this idea.
Berkeley citizens, with the help of nonprofit Ecocity Builders, asked landscape architect Walter Hood to develop a proposal which aligned with the city’s objectives.
Public meetings were held over the course of two years, and in July 2009, the Berkeley City Council adopted the Downtown Area Plan which called for “several small plazas,” most notable of which was the Center Street Plaza,
Hood, who designed the gardens at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, began creating a blueprint for the plaza in 2007.
His design would close off the block of Center between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue (except for emergency and delivery vehicles) to create a pedestrian-oriented gathering space integrated with the proposed Berkeley Art Museum in the old UC Printing Plant building.
Proponents say that Strawberry Creek will be partially “daylighted” or brought to the surface from underground storm drains for people to enjoy and learn about creek ecology and the regional watershed, though the original creekbed of Strawberry Creek, which is open on the UC Berkeley campus to the east, runs a block south of Center Street
“This is an exciting time in Berkeley,” said Kirstin Miller, executive director of Ecocity Builders. “The project has the potential to catalyze economic development in the downtown area.”
Hood’s proposal was presented to the Berkeley Planning Commission in 2009 and to the City Council in January.
Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, who introduced the item on the agenda, urged the rest of the council to support the proposal in their report, especially in light of upcoming funding deadlines and grants.
Councilmember Susan Wengraf, the single “no” vote, pulled the item from being included on the consent calendar, saying that she had a problem with the resolution’s original wording which called Hood’s design the “preferred plan.”
“How can it be a preferred plan when we don’t have options?” she asked, following which the council agreed to remove the word “preferred”.
Wengraf also objected to any city staff time being used to work on this design, given the current financial crisis in city government. The resolution was later amended to reflect that city staff would simply assist the various stakeholders working on the project.